Header - Picture taken at the site of the discovery of ancient tools in China. Credit : Prof. Zhaoyu Zhu

Ancient tools and bones discovered in China by archaeologists suggest early humans left Africa and arrived in Asia earlier than previously thought.

The artefacts show that our earliest human ancestors colonised East Asia over two million years ago. They were found by a Chinese team that was led by Professor Zhaoyu Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and included Professor Robin Dennell of Exeter University.

The tools were discovered at a locality called Shangchen in the southern Chinese Loess Plateau. The oldest are ca. 2.12 million years old, and are c. 270,000 years older than the 1.85 million year old skeletal remains and stone tools from Dmanisi, Georgia, which were previously the earliest evidence of humanity outside Africa.

The artefacts include a notch, scrapers, cobble, hammer stones and pointed pieces. All show signs of use – the stone had been intentionally flaked. Most were made of quartzite and quartz that probably came from the foothills of the Qinling Mountains 5 to 10 km to the south of the site, and the streams flowing from them. Fragments of animal bones 2.12 million years old were also found.

The Chinese Loess Plateau covers about 270,000 square kilometres, and during the past 2.6m years between 100 and 300m of wind-blown dust – known as loess – has been deposited in the area.

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